Kadir von Lohuizen | The Last 50,000 U.S. Soldiers

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Country of origin: Netherlands
Project location: Iraq
Program: Magnum Foundation Fund
Year: 2010

Since the end of US combat operations in Iraq in August 2010, all but 50,000 troops have been sent home.

Those who remain are the Advise and Assist Brigades, combat-­‐ready troops who help train Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers.


CONVERSATION WITH KADIR VAN LOHUIZEN AND SAMER MUSCATI

Samer Muscati is a researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch who focuses on human rights developments in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. He recently authored a report titled, At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years after the US-Lead Invasion.

KADIR: Will the US forces be leaving by the end of the year?

SAMER: It remains to be seen whether the troops will stay longer or leave. An agreement between the United States and Iraq requires all American troops to leave the country by the end of 2011, unless the Iraqi government requests them to extend their presence. Iraq's politicians are divided on whether US troops should stay or go, and Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said that Parliament is responsible for deciding the matter.

I think Iraqi citizens are also divided on the issue and no one is sure what will happen to their country once US troops leave, particularly from a security standpoint. Many Iraqis believe the presence of US troops acts a buffer against sectarian and ethnic violence, especially in northern Iraq where Arabs, Kurds, and many other groups lay claim to a sizable portion of the country's territory. The potential for violence in this area is enormous. Elsewhere, Iraqis are worried that continued US military presence could spark fresh violence from militia groups like the Jaish al-Mehdi (Mehdi Army) who are opposed to the country's continued "occupation".

KADIR: Do we know when the Iraqi Parliament will discuss an extension of the presence of US forces? Are Iraqis solely in charge of this request, or will the US get involved in the decision?

SAMER: The Iraqi government is the only entity that can make the request after listening to their constituencies. We do not know when the Iraqi government will make a decision on whether they will request an extension.

KADIR: The Iraqi government has been accused repeatedly of maintaining secret prisons, using Security Forces as Maliki’s private militia, and cracking down on media. To what extent is the US still involved and in control of operations in Iraq?

SAMER: We know that the Counter Terrorism Service, an elite security forces controlled by the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that works closely with US Special Forces, has been involved in operating at least one secret detention site in Baghdad and implicated in torturing detainees with impunity at a different facility in the capital. Military officers and officials from both the Defense and Interior ministries told Human Rights Watch that the Counter-Terrorism Service routinely conduct operations, including mass arrests and detentions, without notifying the security ministries.

Although the United States claims to have created an Iraqi security force that respects rule of law and human rights, the response of those forces to recent demonstrations shows a different reality. Since February 16, security forces have killed at least 18 protesters and bystanders across Iraq and injured more than 250. Thugs acting with tacit official approval stabbed peaceful protesters in Baghdad, while their Sulaymaniyah counterparts beat demonstrators and set their tents on fire. Security forces and their proxies in Kurdistan and Baghdad have raided media outlets and the offices of a prominent press freedom group, confiscating or destroying equipment and documents. They have attacked, arrested and threatened dozens of journalists, smashed cameras and confiscated memory cards.